Here's a common progression of updates for social media platforms:
- Social platform announces change which alters what core users are accustomed to
- Users freak out and blow it out of proportion
It happens all the time, from Facebook's 'EdgeRank' to #RIPTwitter. And as noted by Twitter founder Biz Stone recently, that's not necessarily a bad thing, as it shows people genuinely care about the service. People not caring would be worse, users with no passion for what happens would indicate they're not emotionally invested in what you're doing, which would suggest it can easily be replaced.
In that context, it's not such a bad thing to see Instagram users losing their minds in the past 48 hours on the back of rumors that the platform's new algorithm-fuelled timeline would be put into effect from Tuesday. Where those rumors stemmed from is unclear, but a heap of Instagrammers took to the platform over the weekend to call on people to turn notifications on for their posts, as, theoretically, this would help them avoid the potential reach declines of the algorithm - of which, we currently have no details as to how it'll work.
The noise was so loud in fact that Instagram was forced to make a statement - similar to how Jack Dorsey felt compelled to respond to the #RIPTwitter storm a few weeks back.
We're listening and we assure you nothing is changing with your feed right now. We promise to let you know when changes roll out broadly.- Instagram (@instagram) March 28, 2016
In their original announcement, Instagram noted that the algorithm would take effect in the coming months, so the actual timeline for implementation remains somewhat vague. But as has now been communicated, the platform will let users know when any such changes will come into effect. No need to panic.
Well, not yet.
But here's the thing - when you think about it, will turning on notifications actually subvert the effect of Instagram's algorithm?
Consider this: You're one of these businesses who's spent a long time cultivating and promoting your Instagram feed, you've worked hard to build those connections and get that exposure. It makes perfect sense that you'd want to protect that audience engagement, so you ask your Instagram followers to switch on notifications for your posts to ensure that they'll get an alert every time you put up something new, regardless of whether you're impacted by the algorithm. But as shown by this latest incident, you'll be one of many users doing the same - every Instagrammer is going to be asking their followers to switch on notifications, and their dedicated users will do just that, leaving you with a situation where a growing number of users are getting push notifications from a heap of Instagram profiles.
Maybe that'll help you subvert any impact from the algorithm in the short term, but what about in a week or so, when those people who've switched on all these notifications are getting sick of being alerted to every single post from the many users they follow. They'll go through their list, re-assess all the pages they've switched on notifications for - basically, if your posts in that period are not stand out, are not speaking directly to those users, then you run the risk of them switching off notifications for your profile.
Now, that's not the end of the world, right? They'll still probably see your posts anyway, the algorithm isn't going to wipe you out entirely. But then again, if the algorithm's like Facebook, it'll factor in all user actions, positive or negative, including the amount of people who've switched off notifications. That would signal to Facebook that users are finding your content isn't what they were after, each one of those people switching off notifications could actually be adding to the negative feedback about your profile, which will effectively reduce your future reach within the algorithm.
Basically, if you're going to ask people to switch on notifications, you're running the risk that they could also switch you off - and if they do that, that's a negative vote which could hurt your standing in the context of the coming change.
In this sense, it makes more sense to ask your followers to Like all your posts to indicate to the algorithm that they want to see more of what you do, as opposed to switching notifications on. Of course, if you're confident you have a dedicated audience who will always want to receive notifications about everything you post - even amongst a flood of similar notifications from other profiles - then asking your audience to switch on notifications might be a good way to go. But it's a risk, it's worth considering the potential impacts of such action.